project northern lights

How a group of volunteers in Canada are getting PPE to those who need it most

A Toronto-based non-profit organization is looking for support as it works to provide much-needed PPE to frontline workers who have been mostly overlooked during the pandemic.

Project Northern Lights (PNL) was formed in late March when a group of people came together to address the overwhelming need for PPE in marginalized communities.

Now, PNL is providing support for frontline workers in communities and facilities such as shelters, long-term care homes, and First Nations communities across Canada.

These are communities and organizations that experienced difficulties in obtaining the items before the outbreak, and that now are experiencing a pronounced lack of support in obtaining what they need, according to PNL.

Namirah Quadir is the Capacity Building Lead for PNL and she expresses a hope that the organization will continue to grow, providing long-term support for communities across the country.

“We realized that there [was] this huge need for PPE in our community and also a lot of communities, specifically vulnerable and more marginalized populations, who were not getting the attention that they deserve in terms of needing PPE,” said Namirah Quadir of PNL.

Inspired and aided by the efforts of the mask drive by Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, which asked the public to make masks on a weekly basis in support for the hospital, Quadir and her colleagues at Project Northern Lights decided to reach out to a wide range of organizations that might be in need of PPE.

Since its inception in late March, the organization has grown rapidly. In the greater Toronto area alone, the organization has distributed 4,000 face shields to frontline workers, Quadir said.

On the PNL site, there is a request form that those in need can easily access and fill out to receive products. So far, Quadir says PNL has received thousands of requests for PPE such as face masks and sanitizers.

In addition to this, Quadir says that PNL has provided thousands of makers through Canada with funding and organisational assistance so that they can produce the PPE.

The response to the work that PNL has been doing has been overwhelmingly positive, Quadir said.

“A lot of the times it’s really just relief,” Quadir said of the immediate reaction she receives when reaching out to places. “I have been on the phone with shelters before and one lady, in fact, just two weeks ago, I believe, I called her and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Namirah, I’m from Project Northern Lights, do you need any face shields?’ And she started crying on the phone.”

“She was crying because she said, ‘At this shelter we have hundreds of people who are close together. They're in close contact. If COVID were to hit us then we'd be in’ — like, she couldn't even imagine that situation,” Quadir said. “She was just so grateful to have any support whatsoever.”

While serving current needs, PNL is also planning for the future and aims to offer long-term support for marginalized communities.

“Just thinking about these specific communities, these vulnerable, marginalized communities who are in a very tough situation right now, a lot of them don't know who to go to for support,” Quadir said.

“I think what's really important is us reaching out to them saying, ‘Hey, we're here for you if you need it, how can we help you?’ And trying to build that network.”

Quadir hopes to expand PNL’s efforts not just in terms of its supply chain of makers, but also geographically. Currently, in addition to Toronto, PNL is established in Ottawa and Kingston, but is also actively working on establishing and mobilizing groups in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Quebec.

“We're not just trying to be the only group that's doing this because we recognize that there's so many grassroots groups that are doing this really across the nation,” Quadir said. “What we're trying to do is develop a network of volunteers across Canada that would be serving these populations.”

To this end, PNL hopes to raise funds through a GoFundMe fundraiser whose proceeds will go toward alleviating some of the hardship faced by vulnerable communities across Canada at this time, and well into the future.

Lead photo by

Project Northern Lights

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